Why moving down to Division III was the best thing for Geoff Collins' career

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Wednesday February 15, 2017

Many young coaches think their career path will go like this: graduate assistant, position coach, coordinator, head coach, staying at the FBS level. But it rarely ever happens like that.

For Geoff Collins, it was the decision to drop down two levels as a young coach that changed everything from him. After one year as the linebackers coach at Fordham in 1996 in his first coaching job, the current Temple head coach decided to go to Division III Albright College to be a young coordinator.

The best thing that happened to me. I look back on it. Should we have made the move? Should we have not made the move?” Collins recalled in a podcast with OwlScoop. “When I left Fordham to go be the defensive coordinator at Albright College, I’m 24 years old, and I’m a defensive coordinator for one of the top Division III programs in the country. Looking back, I didn’t realize I’m basically the same age as players. I just carried myself as I’d been coaching them for 10-15 years.

“At a young age, I was calling plays, getting in front of players, in front of a defense and explaining the gameplan. Every move I’ve made, I’ve been in some form of leadership role. A lot of coaches start off as a GA, position coach, they move up. I dove in as a coordinator and established myself in some form of a leadership role.”

Collins continued to bounce up and down after Albright, going to Georgia Tech as a GA, Western Carolina as a defensive coordinator, followed by off-field roles at Georgia Tech and Alabama, then on-field roles at the Group of 5 level. But the biggest aspect Collins took from Albright was recruiting.

As a young coach, there was a ton more he had to do. That made the learning curve easier when he became a recruiter in Division I.

“When you’re a Division I coach, you have a signing class of 20-25. Each coach might be responsible for bringing in two to three guys. It’s just the law of averages,” Collins said. “When I was at Albright College, we had a signing class of 82. I signed 45. So I’m 24, 25 years old, and you’re recruiting until April, May, so I’m on the phone three, four, five hours a night — every night — recruiting, going into high schools, pitching a room full of kids. That was great for me.

“Because if I can get 45 kids, now I go to Georgia Tech and I’ve got a small area, five kids, eight kids, that’s easy. I learned how to recruit, because I just mass recruited at a very young age. You learn how to talk to people. You learn how to interact. You learn how to engage. You learn how to read people, which I had never really done before, but you just do it so much and you just kind of get a knack for it.”

When he joined George O’Leary as a GA at Georgia Tech, he begged to do some recruiting. O’Leary told him to focus on his job and just do that. In the second year, Collins went back and asked again.

“He says, ‘OK, wise guy. We have six primary recruiting areas. You can have the other 44 states,’” Collins recounted. “I signed 5 kids as a GA, which is unheard of. The next year, I got promoted to full-time, and took off from there.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.